Thursday, December 26, 2019

The Promise Of Next Year

Last week, I went to our storage locker to fetch our holiday items only to find that there had been a flood some months before and the facility had moved our belongings to a new locker. In the process, they had managed to lose our holiday decorations. It's likely that they will turn up again. They were probably just stashed in the wrong locker and will be returned when it's discovered. After all, it's really just several boxes of junk to anyone else. Of course, to us it's a heartbreaking loss. Many of those things have been part of our family's celebrations for more than three decades. Some go back farther than that.

I spent the morning feeling down in the dumps about it, but rallied on the idea that, in fact, I'd been putting off the decorating until the last minute because it had been looming like a bit of a chore anyway. The rest of the family was disappointed as well. We spent some time together discussing the things we had lost, remembering favorite ornaments, and retelling some of our family stories. And then, in the spirit of making the best of a bad situation, we decide to treat this holiday like a clean slate: no decorating at all. We were even going to forego gift wrapping. Yesterday morning, we exchanged gifts and then, in imitation of our Jewish friends, we went to see the latest movie version of Little Women followed by Chinese food in the International District. It was a simple, warm, family day, one I wouldn't at all mind repeating.

If the lost decorations turn up in the meantime, I expect we'll return to our old traditions next year, but if not we've planted the seeds of a new one. We're getting together with the extended family this morning, Boxing Day, which is the second year of another break from tradition. I'd be lying if I didn't say that there isn't a bit of melancholy mixed into it all, this leaving behind of things we had come to expect, even to rely upon, but it's not the overriding emotion. The commitment to being together is stronger than that. My only truly sad Christmas was the year that my wife and I had just moved to Germany and spent the day at a ski resort amongst strangers. We all know that it's not the bright lights or the gifts or the stockings that make these wintertime celebrations meaningful: it's the being together, the knowing that we will be together. And when we're not together, when we can't be together, there is this implied promise of next year.

These traditions and rituals are no small things. They are important to us because of the promises of which they are woven, promises that carry on through years, decades, and generations. They change of course, they must, but the promise remains at the center, the simple, hopeful promise of being together next year.

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